The show delivers an emotionally powerful episode that zooms in solely on Dong Joo’s journey with his history coming to haunt him while he’s still grappling with the case of the runaway soldier. To add to that, his mum also comes to visit just at the right moment, bringing even more pressure to a very emotionally-fraught Dong Joo.
There certainly were lots of tears shed in this episode, but the most touching, tear-inducing moment for me had to be when Master Kim marched into Geodae Hospital and gave President Do Yoon-wan a punch, ordering him not to lay his hands on Seo Jung and Dong Joo ever again. It was the most evident display of care and concern that he’s shown for the both of them, particularly Dong Joo and it’s a pity that neither of them got to witness it. He does so in spite of all the risks it entails, as he’s finally resurfacing in a place where everyone recognises him and “fighting dirty”, as he claimed. It would have been good if Master Kim had a chance to affirm Dong Joo and speak to him after the whole ordeal of the day, but the show immediately shifts gear to the surgery of Chairman Shin. Sometimes, I do wish the show slowed down a little to give the characters time to process and talk through difficult situations they’d been through.
Now, while it was an emotionally powerful episode, I did still have some issues with it and the series as a whole. Firstly, the episode undercut itself by putting both the runaway soldier and the dead father cases together in the same episode. Why do I say that? We know that Dong Joo was conflicted by the whole runaway soldier case because he knew that there was much at stake, not just the raise and the research grant, but his whole future in Geodae Hospital by turning away from President Do. While he had been doing well and growing in Doldam, it was always to him just a place of transit before he went on to bigger things and rise up the ranks. As Master Kim mentioned in the previous episode, Dong Joo doesn’t necessarily respect Master Kim, he just wants to operate as well as him, so that he can be the best doctor. When he’s asked to forge a death certificate, it’s a difficult decision for him because his entire future is at stake. Nonetheless, his experiences at Doldam Hospital where he witnessed Master Kim at work and even experienced growth himself would have been sufficient basis for him to make that final decision. It would have been a true test of his growth to see whether he decided to fall back to his old ways of seeking promotion, or have faith in what he has learnt in Doldam Hospital by focusing on being a good doctor to serve the needs of his patients.
However, once the case of the father who died in Geodae due to Dong Joo’s negligence is thrown in, the decision becomes too obviously clear to him, which undercuts the tension of what he will decide to do about the runaway solider. The daughter comes onto the scene and pastes posters calling him a “murderer” all over the hospital walls even into the toilets – you have to seriously wonder what the bouncer or anybody else in the hospital was doing to have allowed that to happen? When the daughter appears on the scene, we have parallel scenes of young Dong Joo, appearing in the hospital angry that his dad was not prioritised. We have his mother on the scene to drive home the point that Dong Joo made a bad decision when he was at Geodae to operate on a VIP-patient. It becomes so apparent to Dong Joo that he had made a wrong decision before by obeying President Do, and therefore he won’t make the same mistake again with the soldier.
It would have been so much more meaningful and powerful if we had seen Dong Joo come to his final decision through reviewing all his experiences and what he had learnt in Doldam, rather than going all the way back to something that happened before arriving in Doldam. Furthermore, we already know that the decision he made back at Geodae was a bad one, which he regretted. Wouldn’t it been better if the narrative of his growth through Doldam had been at the forefront of this episode instead?
On a related but separate thread, we also have the romance between Dong Joo and Seo Jung, which the show seems to be dragging out a little too long. Wasn’t there a connection between them when he went to get her at Geodae and they held hands during the first snow? Didn’t she already accept him back then? I was expecting the show to build on that moment of connection and allow their relationship to progress, but it seems like they are back to square one again.
The show has been doing well in its ratings and it’s not hard to see why. Each episode still remains highly entertaining because of a strong ensemble and the largely refreshing and complex medical issues being explored. However, there are some evident weaknesses in the writing and plot, the most glaring one being that we still know very little about Master Kim, who is arguably the most fascinating character in the whole series. Here’s hoping the writing shapes up in its final stretch, given that it has now gained a strong following.